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In order to understand any act correctly, it is necessary to bear in mind a series of factors. One of the most important factors would be the motivation behind the given act, in other words, what prompted it. When we view the planned mass to be celebrated at the Sourp Khatch (Holy Cross) Church on Aghtamar and all the noise it is inciting, the inappropriate inducement, to put it mildly, becomes abundantly clear. It is absolutely evident that the mass and the entire enterprise has nothing to do with the glorification of God. It is an illusory event organised by Turkish special services, the only end of which being, as the subtle term goes in political science, positive image projection.
The Turks are doing well to yet again fool the world. That is their nature, and their prerogative. I do not understand, however, the point of the exultant participation of the Armenians in this game. So the world will know that Aghtamar has an Armenian church! Firstly, those who need to know this fact are well aware of it already. And then, those who do not wish to know it, don’t. I can assure you in any case that this will not be the main message of the world’s media that day. The thrust of the news stories are going to be plaudits for the tolerance of the Turks. Do not let the Turks humiliate us yet again. The abasement of the protocols signed in Zurich is sufficient for us for a few decades. Why do you all wish to rub salt on our wounds once more?
The opinion is completely unacceptable that, “We don’t have many people there, what are we to do with the churches? A single mass once a year is enough”. Let them first answer the question: what happened to the Armenians who made those churches? Further, the issue is not the celebration of mass itself, but the right, the very right to celebrate mass. Perhaps the Armenians would celebrate mass in those churches once every five years, or perhaps ten; regardless, they have to have the right to celebrate mass in any of those churches, as deemed by the Church. The Turks are bestowing our own rights upon us as a gift, and we are acting quite pleased. We are like a little child, whose family has been killed, whose entire legacy has been stolen and then, with a shiny toy thrown before him, he goes wild with joy over it. In 1912, by official Turkish data, there were more than two thousand functioning – let me stress that, functioning – churches and monasteries within the Ottoman Empire. They have been illegally occupied by the Republic of Turkey. Let them first return or provide compensation for the property to its rightful owner, the Church, that is, the community, which is to say that it belongs to all of us.
And then, let them faithfully carry out the international obligations they themselves have borne. The basis of relations with the Kemalist movement overseeing Turkey were founded on certain preconditions, which were codified by the Treaty of Lausanne (24 July 1923). By the second clause of Article 38 of the Treaty of Lausanne, “All inhabitants of Turkey shall be entitled to free exercise, whether in public or private, of any creed, religion or belief”. And Article 40 provides for them to establish, manage and control religious institutions.
What is more, by the third clause of Article 42, “The Turkish Government undertakes to grant full protection to the churches, synagogues, cemeteries, and other religious establishments of the above-mentioned minorities”. Naturally, “full protection” involves not just not actively destroying and not razing churches to the ground, but also their preservation and renovation.
Consequently, the partial renovation of the Sourp Khatch (Holy Cross) Church and the right to celebrate mass there once a year is not “an expression of goodwill”, but the very improper and late fulfillment by Turkey of an international obligation rendered a fundamental law, with the prospects of certain political exploitation. And so, it does not fall within our interests in the least to give any leeway to such exploitation.

Ara Papian
Head, “Modus Vivendi” Center
14 August 2010


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